Avatar Review

Posted: July 4, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: December 18th, 2009

Running Time: 2 hours and 41 minutes

Written and Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Backlash can be a bitch, but also inevitable when it comes to highly successful and widely praised movies. Take, for instance, James Cameron’s Avatar, the second of the director’s films in a row to claim the title of “Highest Grossing Movie of All-Time” (unadjusted for inflation). People were singing its praises mostly when it was released in December 2009, and I was one of them. In fact, the praise was almost overwhelming. Then, as the hype died down and people began re-watching it more and more, the reality of everything slowly crept in, with many outright changing their opinions of the movie altogether. It’s been a little over four years since I last re-watched Avatar before now, and looking back on it, the four-year gap doesn’t seem all that unjustified.

Like most sci-fi opuses these days, Avatar takes place in the type of bleak future where Earth has depleted all of its natural resources, forcing our society to go out into the vast universe, looking for ways to replenish them. The efforts are focused on a planet called Pandora, home of the Na’vi, a race of blue, 10-foot tall humanoid creatures at one with the planet’s nature and are also worshippers of a goddess named Eywa. You see, Pandora is rich in a valuable mineral known as Unobtainium (sigh), but the humans can’t properly mine for the mineral without endangering the Na’vi’s way of life. Said conundrum leads the Earth expedition to enlist scientists headed over by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) to pursue more diplomatic negotiations by way of projecting their consciousness into those of “avatars”, Na’vi bodies mixed with human DNA that will allow them to move among Pandora’s population. The latest recruit into this project is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine filling in for his recently-killed twin brother. But Jake’s mission isn’t going to be an easy one. He’s almost immediately approached by Col. Miles Quaritch (Steven Lang), a gung-ho marine less interested in diplomacy and more interested in immediate, decisive action. He strikes a deal with Jake: if Jake can provide intel on the Na’vi and their way of life, then Quaritch can guarantee Jake a new set of legs. Of course, Jake becomes more conflicted about that after he gets to know the Na’vi clan, specifically Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), daughter of the clan’s leader. It soon becomes the classic ultimatum of, “You’re either with us … or them!”

Almost five years after its release, many would have you believe that Avatar is a bad film. Am I one of those people? No, because this IS a good movie, but unfortunately not the great one I remember being wowed by in theatres. Maybe it was the impressive use of 3-D that distracted me from the film’s issues, or maybe I did see them but chose not to dwell on them, but the fact of the matter is that the issues are there and they should be acknowledged. And no, my problems with this film don’t extend to just, “Oh, the story’s unoriginal!” The problems I have with Avatar are the typical kinds of problems that I seem to have with most of James Cameron’s body of work, and the reasons why I can never embrace the guy as warmly as other movie fans. However, I promise I’ll try not to sound too much like a broken record, considering my Terminator 2 review.

While I can deal with a certain level of unoriginality in the story, I’m more concerned with how Cameron constantly brings in some pretty interesting themes to the story — for example, being an avatar is in of itself a big one throughout the movie, as Jake essentially spends the entire film as an avatar, no matter what body he’s in — but never really explores them in a satisfactory way, instead falling back mainly on genre conventions that, by this point, come off as pretty stale. Not only that, but the characters are a bit too broadly-drawn, especially the villain of the film, which serves to keep me from being more than interested in their conflicts on just a baseline level. Building off that, there’s never really any moment in this movie where you can’t see where it’s going at least three miles ahead, so that too takes some of the suspense out of it. Finally, while the first forty-five minutes to an hour and the last forty-five minutes are tightly-paced, the middle gets pretty sluggish.

Now, the obvious argument to be made in response here is that Avatar is meant to be viewed mainly as an experience movie, where plot is more secondary. Well, I actually agree with that … to an extent. Perhaps the biggest praise to bestow upon Avatar is how vividly-realized the world of Pandora is. James Cameron reportedly spent a lot of time developing this world, and it certainly not only shows, but also pays off. Pandora doesn’t feel like a place where you just spend 2 1/2 hours in and that’s it; instead, it feels like a place you could easily spend more time in. Of course, the visuals are a big part of that. Simply put, Avatar‘s visual effects are amazing, both gorgeous to look at and fairly convincing most of the time. Even the characters in avatar form look believable, something which is no small feat. Obviously, I think it’s no mistake that blue constantly pops up as part of Pandora’s color palette in general. Another technical achievement of Avatar lies in the action sequences, of which there are relatively few in retrospect, but all of which are very exciting and well-done. The climax especially showcases Cameron’s almost natural ability at directing action; it’s big, full of energy, but doesn’t feel overdone. The film also doesn’t fall back on action too much, which is good.

In terms of the performances, they’re mostly solid. Sam Worthington is good on average, despite a few moments of stiffness, and Sigourney Weaver gives the movie most of its life on a human level. I already alluded to a weak villain, but honestly, Stephen Lang still does the most with what he’s given. If I were picking favorites, though, I personally like Zoe Saldana the most because she arguably has to put in the most effort. She needs to make Neytiri likable and sympathetic, all through motion capture, and she does so brilliantly. I’d say she’s the most sympathetic character of them all, actually.

While I’m not in love with Avatar, I still can’t deny the level of craft on display despite a problematic script. James Cameron pulled off a pretty exciting vision here, and visionary/ambitious filmmaking, even with a few flaws, is nothing to turn your nose up to.


NEXT WEEK: It’s pop quiz time, hot shot!

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Though there’s a lot of backlash against it, I still quite enjoy it very much. Regardless of how conventional the story may actually be. Good review.

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